AURORA | The clock hasn’t even struck noon and Jordan McCarty is furiously working the grill at Bender’s Brat Haus on South Buckley Road on a recent early-November morning.
Like clockwork, around 11 a.m., the line of loyal customers starts snaking along the small wood-paneled half wall on the north side of the restaurant as McCarty rolls fresh-made brats around the flame and flips juicy hamburger patties.
Customers — many in Air Force uniforms from nearby Buckley Air Force Base, others police officers or city officials from the nearby Aurora Municipal Center — lean and peer over the people in front of them at the menu posted near the ceiling. The line doesn’t stretch to the door on this particular lunch rush, but it’s not uncommon for it to reach all the way back to the framed Huey Lewis and News concert shirt on the back wall.
Those lengthy lines of hungry folks needing their fix of bratwurst or “krautburger” or spicy horseradish are a scene that’s played out countless times over the past four decades at the iconic Aurora eatery, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month.
McCarty isn’t usually the person on that grill — she’s generally tackling one of the chores that running a busy restaurant requires. But on this particular Tuesday morning, she’s in charge of the sausages that have earned Bender’s perhaps the loyalest following of Aurora’s dining scene.
“We never cut corners, try to save money or anything,” she said, after the lunch blitz had calmed down. “I still use the freshest ingredients, I haven’t changed a recipe or anything.”
The restaurant opened in 1976 at Chambers Road and East Sixth Avenue, and then moved to the current location a few years ago. Since then, not much has changed: The brats are still served hot, and the condiment station serves up the same perfect horseradish and vinegary bell peppers. You can pair your brat or your krautburger with warm German potato salad, or order a big raw package of super-lean brats to take home.
One of the few tweaks McCarty made was adding the “Three Pig” sandwich, which comes with ham, a split-top brat and bacon bits.
“That’s become a pretty popular one,” McCarty said.
They dabbled in having a food truck a few years back, but McCarty said that idea didn’t really work out, so they scrapped it.
When she moved locations, McCarty took pains to make sure Bender’s was still Bender’s — right down to the wood paneling and pennants on the walls.
“A lot of people were scared when we did move that it was just going to completely change,” she said. “But we had a great thing going — why change it when it works?”
While many of the customers on a given day made the short trek from Buckley or city hall, plenty of others are willing to log a lengthy commute to get their hands on Bender’s. McCarty said some people drive from as far away as Kansas — and the orders for raw brats come from all over.
Sonny McClain, 56, said he has been coming to Bender’s for about a decade. Even when he lived in Englewood, he made the drive a few times a month to get a double-brat sandwich.
“It’s consistent, consistently yummy,” he said with a grin.
To celebrate their 40th, the restaurant is giving out free Bender’s T-shirts to the first 40 customers each day.
McClain got one on Tuesday and said he expects to wear it proudly.
And McCarty is proud, particularly of Bender’s commitment to consistently great brats, which has earned them a place as one of the most iconic restaurants in town.
“I’m pretty lucky,” she said. “I have a very loyal customer base.”